Taken from the Philokalia,
Put the mind in the heart
Put the mind in the heart
Stand before the Lord
And put the mind in the heart
On this day of the Feast of the Transfiguration, I invite you into this quote from Belden Lane's brilliant book The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. The chapter is called Sinai and Tabor, where Lane goes into incredible detail, marking pilgrims to these mountains, like the late 4th century woman Egarius, and the Armenian pilgrim Elisaeus, but also points out the eastern orthodox tradition's way of seeing the mountains as apophatic and kataphatic symbols.
"Central in all of this is the conviction that the sudden, blinding light of divine radiance, as it momentarily appears in human experience, must ever be framed within a context of the utterly mundane, with all the harsh, prosaic discipline it demands. When the desert-mountain tradition does not patently reject ecstatic experience as untrustworthy, it stringently insists that "moments of splendor" serve the purposes of justice and responsibility in the ordinary life."
- Belden Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes
Icon of the Transfiguration - Theophanes the Greek
“As I learn to be the adult with God’s grace, who’s there for myself, I begin to discover that the very wounded part of me that used to cause me so much pain, that I used to attack with shaming attacks, like: “there I go again” and “why am I like this” I start feeling a kind of warmth towards it. I start feeling a tender regard towards it. When we risk sharing what hurts the most, in the presence of someone who will not invade us or abandon us, we unexpectedly come upon the pearl of great price.
The suffering itself is the field in which the precious pearl is hidden.”
- James Finley
"To be alive, is to be vulnerable."
- Madeleine L'Engle
Firstly, because we're now at the half-way mark of this series on Sanctuary, I want to echo my first reflection for this series, entitled “Grief Deferral - the Hidden Shadow Behind Crises”. In which I suggested that the deferral of our grief and healing, has global repercussions. That we need to begin seeing our own healing path as just the beginning… and that as we continue forward with it, we must see our own healing as a courageous symbol of Holistic Reality. That what we discover through our healing, is a sort of brokenness that is whole, and out of that, we can truly live the heroine’s or the hero’s journey, which is about being in loving service, to our community, human and other-than-human.
When I embarked on the task of creating an album about healing, I knew I would need to make it with someone who was going to tenderly acknowledge the hurts, to help us name the pain, but also not lead us down a path toward narcissism. There is a danger in furthering our own pathology when we make our own story of pain, more special, but very tenderly, it needs to be acknowledged, almost before our story can continue with vibrancy and life. In other words, I knew James Finley would, in a childlike way, help us to grow up. (Please hear this in the context of part 4 in this series, Seeing With the Eyes of a Child).
Today’s song is really about becoming an adult, that finds their way out of old patterns and back into life. Through our journey, we can get stuck, repeating the same shaming self-talk that often, in turn, perpetuates a very insidious violence beyond ourselves. This getting stuck can last for our whole life if we don’t find a way to move beyond the patterns.
What does it mean, to be fully alive?
Today’s gospel reading is about you and me, being the salt of the earth.
It is about you and me, being the light of the world.
You may have seen the beautiful series on Netflix called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, with the marvellous cook and writer Samin Nosrat. In the Salt episode, she takes us to Japan where we discover that there are over 4000 different types of salt. Japan shows us that we can really become a connoisseur of salt tasting, similar to wine.
Samin Nosrat uncovers the delicate mystery to seasoning food with salt and really demonstrates its importance in cooking, and how it can bring a richer experience to the taste of food.
You are the salt of the earth... you bring a richer taste to the earth.
We often think to call someone the ‘salt of the earth’ means that they are down to earth, as in, a super practical person. And that is part of it, especially if that super practical person is also sincere. But there is a danger in these verses, especially in the part that talks about people seeing our good works, in thinking that salt of the earth and light of the world is just about good deed doing.
To be fully alive, I think, is to be creative, inspired, filled with vigour, and a love for beauty in the ordinary. To be fully alive is to risk really being a creature of this earth.
Celtic Christianity had a very beautiful way of seeing the illuminated nature of all things. You glow with the light of God. But sometimes in our story, we become afraid to shine, because we might stand out. We build up barriers around ourselves, because shining is too vulnerable. What if we shine, and people try to snuff us out? So more often than not, we learn to snuff ourselves out, to avoid ridicule.
And why did Jesus say salt AND light? Why not just light... or... why not just salt?
This might seem like a farfetched association, but an interesting historical event comes to mind.
In 2500 BC, there was a comet event in isles of Britain/Scotland/Wales and Ireland, that was so disruptive, causing so much damage, that the indigenous people of that region changed their spiritual expression. Prior to this event, the gods were in the fertility of the ground. Ritual happened in caves. Heaven was 'down there', and often in the ocean herself, with ritual burials that implied a 'returning' to that which sustained your life.
After the comet struck, there was an evolution toward sky gods, with lightening bolts, and the standing stones were built to the new heavens and new rituals developed.
Ever since I heard this story, I keep wondering if we are in an age where the depth and the fertility below, and the lateral diversity of the earth, and the cosmic majesty of the stars, are going to come together in our heart comprehension … that even science now can explain, it is all one great expression of Connection... and I would add, one great expression of God.
I just wonder, if Jesus was speaking as a cosmic earth-dweller when he put salt and light together.
We also know now, scientifically, that we are made of the stuff of earth… but that the earth herself, comes from the dust of an exploding star.
The salt of the earth,
the light of the world.
As Joni Mitchell sang, “we are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
Shame keeps us from this truth.
When we habitually “perpetuate violence against the parts of ourselves that need to be loved the most”, we have not yet realized that, as James Finley says, “for God, there’s nothing missing in the midst of all the missing pieces inside of me”. To accept that, for God, there’s nothing missing, and to really embody that truth, leads us to aliveness. But as Madeleine L’Engle said, “to be alive is to be vulnerable”, which may very well be the reason we let fear keep us in our patterns.
But I say today...
And shine... anyway.
PS- 10 years ago, I found myself in a "dark night of the soul", a descent of austere magnitude. After what felt like endless unravelling, there was one night, where I took a solo walk on the beach of Lake Winnipeg (I was fixing up a little old cabin in exchange for staying there). With the full, orange moon rising, I knew internally... that there was nothing missing amidst all the loss. Utter infinitude as one with the Lover was my Reality, and I beamed with no falseness for one glimmering moment. Being in the age of always having a camera, I was able to capture that moment. Here it is... it was a moment where I gave myself permission to shine anyway. To be salty and really live, in the reality of suffering and joy.
This weekend is not only the birthday of Thomas Merton, but the feast day of St Brigid. This time of year has become one of the most powerful weeks for me in the calendar year.
Brigid’s feast day may have a shorter history with Christianity, but for 7000+ years the Imbolc festival, Là Fhèill Brìghde, was celebrated in honour of the goddess Brigid. It represented the hope of spring and fertility. It was also a looking back, as people celebrated the miracle of making it through the most dangerous time of winter. A festival of threshold times... of in between times... of praying for lambing, and calving, as the livestock swells toward spring.
In this week’s song, So Far to Go, there is the sense that we’ve come a distance on our journey, and that now, it can’t be reversed. That we’ve somehow stepped into the unknown, and quite clearly, are in new territory, but it is such a very liminal place that we have no compass for.
As James Finley says in the spoken word portion of the song:
I’m betwixt and between two worlds.
I'm on a path not of my own making
There is a tension there. It is being in that place where nothing is resolved. Nothing is tied up in a neat bow. And there is the risk of doing violence to the slow unfoldment, by trying to wrap it up too quickly. Like if you open up a cocoon too early, before it is time, all you will see is goo. And the lesson is, don't be goo. Keep going... in your waiting.
Being patient with metamorphosis, with unresolve, is hard. This tension is one of the the reasons I am so grateful for having been introduced to contemplative practice.
And as with all of my other recent writings on this album Sanctuary, I am spending time really thinking about how these personal journeys can expand, into the Big Story so I don't lead any of us into a neurotic corner.
Interestingly, we can see this idea of being betwixt and between two worlds, in both St. Brigid and Thomas Merton.
Brigid is actually the saint of thresholds, and tradition tells us that she was born in at the entrance to a dairy barn, so, both outdoors and indoors. Her father was a chief in the druidic tradition and her mother was possibly one of his Christian slaves, who worked in the dairy. So, also, both slave and free. Both Christian, and Pagan.
St. Brigid eventually became a Celtic Christian Abbess in Kildare, Ireland, and it is said that she had a special way with both the Christians and Celtic pagans. That she could stand in both worlds. She called Christ her Druid, for instance, which was the highest compliment that could be given in her world. And, on the other hand, she, along with St. Patrick, could be seen as abolitionists, because they both spoke against slavery, (which had originally been more of a bartering system in ancient Celtic culture, but had evolved in the Celtic world, by the influence of the far off, but far reaching Roman influence.)
Thomas Merton, was born to an American mother and a New Zealander/European father, and grew up in both America and Europe. He experienced French and British boarding school, American life, and a sort of avant garde, vagrant artist’s life.
His conversion to Catholicism was a deeply sincere conversion, and his baptism was a mystical experience.
Then, as he waited to find out if he would be drafted into the war, or if Gethsemani Monastery would have him as a monk, he found himself in that liminal space, nearly tormented by unanswered questions.
At one point, he asks St. Therese of Lisieux (Little Flower) to pray for him, asking her to show him what to do, telling her he would “be her Monk”. While he asked the Little Flower to pray for him, he could hear the bells of Gethsemani ringing, even though he was on the grounds of St. Bonaventure University in New York.
Reading his journals from around this time, you can really sense the humanity, the deep longing, that reveals itself, out of that in between place.
Throughout his life, as he deepened his search, he began to dialogue with Buddhist teachers, Sufi teachers, beat poets, and with jazz, as a sacred experience. He had a profound way of building a bridge between two worlds. And... interestingly, he was born on the Eve of St Brigid... and the Eve of Imbolc, a great turning point of the year, a festival that builds a bridge between winter and spring.
So, even as we may find ourselves in a place that is not resolved, let us be inspired by Brigid and Merton... and practice being in that place of tension, for ourselves, but also for the whole world. Because you never know… this practice in sitting without resolve, may be conditioning you for a time when you are asked to hold a tension in the world, that is not going to reach a conclusion, even in your lifetime.
In the end, all of this lack of culmination, is really about a lack of consummation with the great Lover. The ache you feel, is really a longing, for the depths of who you already are, to be realized. What this is about is exactly the quote of Merton’s (and as I write this it is Merton’s 105th birthday!), where you hear James Finley’s spoken word at the end of this song…
Thomas Merton once prayed to God,
O how far I have to go to rest in you
In whom I’ve already arrived
I only wish it were over
I only wish it were begun
This week also marks the Christian festival of Candlemas, which is the feast of the presentation of the Jesus, and the ritual purification of Mary in the temple. Traditionally, people would bring their beeswax candles to the church to have them blessed for the year, to place in the household, as a symbol of Christ, as the the illumination of all things... the Light of the world. And, in the Celtic Christian tradition, Brigid was known as the foster mother of Christ, or "Mary of the Gael".
Here is an excerpt from an oral tradition Gaelic hymn, passed down through the centuries, collected by Alexander Carmichael,
Glowed to him wood and tree,
Glowed to him mount and sea,
Glowed to him land and plain,
When the foot of the Child had touched the earth.
This glowing... this Light of the world... this illumination of all things... was easy to "get", for the Celtic eye, when Brigid built the bridge.
Where is it in our own lives, could we become more expansive, to fall in love, and build a shrine to hold our glowing places sacred? To heal from our own personal traumas... to symbolize the healing of all trauma... including the trauma that is happening to Christ incarnate as this planet herself.
Also... here is a little track I recorded on the Eve of St. Brigid's Day, Merton's birthday... an ancient song for Brigid, in Irish Gaelic.
As you may remember, from A.A. Milne's beloved series Winnie the Pooh, after many whimsical and free days in his beloved Hundred Acre Wood, Christopher Robin has to say good-bye to his friends on the day he has to leave for boarding school. He’s very young, and must leave his precious place behind to become educated. And along with parting from family and place, there is a leaving behind of many trustworthy beliefs about perhaps what is most important in life. Playfulness. Imagination. The diversity of the kinds of friendships we can have. From bouncing Tiggers, to languid Eeyores, to Bears of Little Brain who dream up wonderful, catchy songs, to serious rabbits worrying mostly about harvest… (and I’ve always thought rabbit represents a foreshadow of adulthood.)
In the film, Christopher Robin, we witness a weather-worn grown-up version of the boy. After having to face the real world of boarding school, no longer allowed to draw pictures of his beloved stuffed friends, Christopher Robin grows up and is drafted to go to war and serve on the battlefield. He comes home and settles down with a wonderful woman, has a little girl, and devotes all of his efforts to a thankless job as an accountant for a furniture company.
Christopher Robin all but forgets his magical Hundred Acre Wood and the diverse set of characters he used to love. But his little daughter is longing for him to remember.
I won’t tell you the whole plot of the film, but I will say that I loved it, and thought it has a good deal to teach us about what it might mean to get to know our inner child again.
There is a very well-known therapy in depth psychology that is simply called Inner Child Work. It is about getting to know the part of yourself that was you as a child, who is still a part of you.
See, if you were lucky, you had a childhood that was free of trauma, and your parents made all the right decisions, and you didn’t have to experience rushed severances, nurtured more by institutions, than by an intimate web of intergenerational love. But more likely than not, some real shit happened, and you wound your way through the circuitous journey of your life, into a realm that does not have an adequate amount of love for the child you once were. Maybe you’ve taken the journey to slowly get to know your inner child, but most of us struggle to hold a special place in our hearts for our childhood selves. And we fail to send them messages, or speak to them in what Jim Finley calls “the timeless world of the unconscious” and say the things they needed to hear long ago. (Or, to put it another way, in your imagination, sort of “do” the things that needed to be done.)
There is a wild, childlike part of you too, that in some ways needed to be guided… things like not throwing your food, or being mean, or provoking. But commonly, the best wild parts of you were the parts that were severed… Like being told to colour within the lines. Like being made self-conscious of your little habits. Like not being allowed to be wildly creative... coming up with new words, or expressing your body, or humming or whistling a tune. And perhaps you had to part with a natural place, a wild place, that you were as bonded to as much as you were to a friend, and you may have been shamed for grieving that loss of place.
And for some, there is a very real betrayal, because like I said, real shit happened. Abuse happened. Things that should never have been, were.
Or a death happened.
And our whimsical worlds came crashing in upon us, and maybe even all our dreams felt like a betrayal.
And suddenly all the holes to fit into were square, and we had to get on with it, leaving our colourful world of Tiggers and Poohs behind.
In some sense, a severance must occur for childhood to transition to adulthood. But this used to be done in the form of a rite of passage. A ritual marking, that was still symbolic and still very imaginative and playful, (although also necessarily, a real "ordeal" as it was called). But the culture we are in does not have these rituals, and so ordeals come in the form of strange pattern interruptions of what should otherwise be a sort of methodical, institutionalized, life.
There is a term that Paul Ricoeur used, for the journey of belief, from what he called first naiveté to second naiveté. From that point of believing that all biblical narratives or fairy tales are literally true… and then after a university course or two, you begin to see any narrative, or any mythopoetic expression as suddenly, literally false. And then, there is another journey… that of arriving back at that place when we were children, but this time, with a second naiveté. A place where it is no longer “literally” anything, but now actual.
Most of us are either stuck in a first naiveté, or stuck in the denying of that naiveté. And there is a fatality to being stuck in either place. Because a grown-up stuck in the first naiveté can turn fundamentalist and hardened, in what used to be a childish innocence of literal belief. But also, a grown-up stuck in the total denial of that first naiveté, risks the loss of imagination, innovation, and creative, poetic thinking that comes from the realm of childhood.
Someone who has moved into a second naiveté has less challenges accepting the diversity of all the characters who come into their life. Adulthood can move back out of of rigidity, into a multitude of colours and differences.
The gospel reading for today is about being fishers of people. And we often have the image of a fishing rod, and hooking and luring people in. But they didn’t fish with rods in those days… they fished with nets. Which means, the nets didn’t discriminate on who was to be an acceptable fish or not.
I don’t think we would be struggling as a church, as much as we are, in the realm of accepting lgbtqia+ people, (or any person who doesn’t fit into what has been deemed “the norm”), if we could remember the characters who peppered our world as children. The Poohs and the Tiggers that we entrusted our most important secrets to. I trusted them to take me into their world, and their world was full of life, and colour. In one sense, I really learned how to pray, through enacting conversations with my stuffed toys, or my dog, or many of the trees I knew as my friends. When I encountered the world around me, I didn’t expect everyone and everything to be just like me, in order to make friends with them.
And that is what this is really about. Friendship. Relationship. Getting to know each other. Encounter. Making friends with who we really are, and making friends with who others really are. It isn’t about charity. Or even inclusivity as a buzz word. It is deeper than that. It is about finding that child within. Slowly finding a safe way to speak love to them. And then, eventually, making this realization of love about seeing the precious, inner child in everyone else.
The Waterboys have a song I cover that goes,
I'm gonna look twice at you
Until I see the Christ in you
I'm gonna look twice at you
Until I see the Christ in you
Till I'm looking through the eyes of love
And James Finley says in this song, Encountering the Inner Child,
"I see something precious in you, that you are not yet able to see.Where we are right now, is you, discovering with God's grace, the adult in you that can join me in seeing that preciousness in you. Because the child inside right now is waiting for you to see her."
Jesus said no one may enter the Kingdom of Heaven until they first see through the eyes of a child. Second naiveté is really what being “born again” is about. It is about believing each other’s experience. It is about reigniting an imaginal place within ourselves that stops ruling everything out, before we even consider that reality is far more interesting than we’ve narrowed it down to.
And the Kingdom of Heaven is certainly more interesting than what we've given credit for, which is why we must begin to see with the eyes of a child.
And... the Kingdom of God ... is within you.
Which means... you're interesting, too.
Ironically, as I sat down to write for the third part of this series on the album Sanctuary, I was brought into the challenge of the reality of this week’s song, Waiting to Be Met, by having to stop writing and spend 24 hours tending to my sick children.
Both of my children caught some sort of stomach flu and I was up all night doing laundry, rocking them, and dealing with fevers. They are both doing better now, and I am able to sit down for a moment to reflect on this song. I am mostly grateful, as they are rarely ever that kind of sick, and for the practices I have, to bear witness to the moments that are so challenging. I’ve begun a simple morning and evening Qigong practice that has been incredibly helpful, and the body trauma is not being so first in line to be in charge.
Life is the teacher, as they say. And, with this song, Waiting to Be Met, there are these lines,
what if I hide
and you don’t seek?
what if I show myself
and you look right through me?
how can I trust the mystery?
when that’s just what it is,
My children love to play hide and seek. They also adore being really seen, especially when they share a part of their day. These words about hiding and being sought, and showing ourselves to someone, are about that childlike part of all of us. And James Finley says, “that’s where God meets us”.
I always marvel at how, when I climb into bed to hold one (or both) of my fevered children and become conscious of my own breathing, I can hear their little racing heartbeat begin to slow to a more normal rhythm, and I can somehow sense when their bodies have reached homeostasis.
We’re all waiting to be met.
I recently saw a video with Charles Eisenstein talking about what he might say or do if he were to have a conversation with Donald Trump. He first asks the question: “what makes somebody into a narcissist?” And answers, “I think it originates in not being seen for who you really are. So you become addicted to making yourself seen. Making yourself the center of attention.” He goes on to say that he “would go into it with the intention of seeing him as he really is, of seeing him at the soul level”. Or as Rev William Barber said this week as he preached on Trump and Psalm 139, “I mourn for Trump,” and he goes on to speak of the dangers of how, “You can become your enemy.”
And, like that flicker of light left in the creature Gollum, Psalms 139 also says, “if I ascend to heaven you are there O God, and if I make my bed in Hell still you are with me”, "where can I go from your Spirit O God?". In other words, there is nowhere, where God isn’t. Or as Cynthia Bourgeault said in her essay from the anthology How I Found God in Everyone and Everything, “I am not a space in which God does not occupy”.
First of all, I want to be clear, in the way that James Finley is clear, later on in Sanctuary (in the track There is a Peace), that “we should never romanticize trauma with spiritual sayings. It matters that you get as free from it as you possibly can. But you can go through that evolving process in such a way, that it becomes a very mysterious place. Namely, the place in which your inner peace is no longer dependent on the outcome.”
This is radical thinking. And at first glance, it appears very dangerous to those of us who are working through trauma, and have spent much of our lives scanning our surroundings, looking for danger. (Last week’s recommendation comes to mind… be countercultural and move slowly.)
And, we also must confess that as a society, we’ve often believed and respected the perpetrators, and been more concerned about them, and are quick to come to their rescue, when events are twisted to look like an attack on them.
This is why, in the film Mary Magdalene, when the woman speaks to Jesus about the rape of one of her friends, she is challenged by Jesus with two things: that she must attempt to be free from the unforgiveness holding her in bondage, but also… and this is key… obey God over and above, obeying men. He was saying, “follow me/follow this path” even though your husbands, or fathers won’t let you. But forgive also, so you might be free. (And I will say here, that I believe that is exactly one of the things Jesus was doing.)
I hear this song today, at the more simple level, of really meeting my children in the demands of the day (which as many of you know, is not as simple as it sounds!)
But I also hear this song at a wider, radical level. So radical that it begs the question of what restorative justice could look like, if not over-simplified, in one direction or the other.
For instance, what I know of restorative justice is that it must always make sure the survivor is safe, and has the resources, and support to heal. And the survivor doesn't need to be in the room with the perpetrator. And sometimes, forgiveness needs to happen from a great distance, without making contact with the other person. But, restorative justice is also about the right people being with someone who has done a a wrong, sometimes a terrible wrong, in the hope that they too, might find their way back to homeostasis.
*And*, as many people of colour will attest, restorative justice can often be romanticized, and over-simplified, when a person of colour forgives a white person. It doesn’t mean the forgiveness shouldn’t have occurred. It means people should not fetishize forgiveness. Forgiveness should never be pornographic… but it seems sometimes that, perhaps in order to distance ourselves from the painful tenderness of the forgivenesses tapping us on the shoulder, we plaster someone else’s forgiveness story on our newsfeed, a little too freely.
This all comes back to our own need for being met. It is a delicate dance. Learning how to share. As James Finley says, “that vulnerable moment, when someone comes out from behind the curtain”.
I say all this because, at the very risk of sounding like a cheap grace evangelist, I will not rule out any being on this planet in their need to be met. Hear it at that level if you have to, but what I’m really doing is teasing out the frequency at the edge of all sermons on grace, that hums, in spite of all rah, rah, Liminoid conversions, and also in spite of a very tired, often very mean, deconstructing cynicism.
“It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand.”
Last week, when I initially began writing my piece on grief deferral, much of the violence between the US and Iran had not yet occurred, but had just begun to arise.
Yesterday, as I encountered people, I could feel all around me that people are sort of soaked in the frenzy, even if they haven't been listening to the news.
Ironically, this week’s song, in the series on the album Sanctuary, is called Move Slowly, and is really about the tenderness of healing circuitously, and not trying to attack healing as something to achieve. As James Finley says, “it is necessary to go out into deep water because that’s where the pain is, but in order for it to be safe to do that, it’s so important first, to learn how to float in shallow water. Because to learn to float in shallow water, is to learn to be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
But here’s what is so very challenging about that. We have to find time for healing. We have to find time for our practice. James Finley often likes to say, "It would be so easy to be a mystic if we didn't have to live our life." And he also likes to quote the contemporary Zen master Katagiri Roshi, by saying, “It would be so much easier if we were asked to live a simple life in a simple world, but we’re asked to live a simple life in a complicated world.”
But I have seen this what "move slowly" can look like in action. One time, when James Finley and I were working with some tech people for something, one of the people we were working with had a very anxious, intense presence, and was visibly and chronically stressed out. I have never witnessed such a contrast between two people in my whole life. Being the contemplative pipsqueak that I am, I was (and still would be), nearly caught up in the tidal wave of stress, as I have been at times when I didn’t know where to turn as a mother, during an intense toddler tantrum. But I looked over at James, and there he was, gently grinning, sitting there as though there might be some massage therapy music playing. And he looked at the tech person with unwavering, but totally sober, enduring love. I was witnessing the great art of what it means to be a true contemplative. James was not, by any means, “spiritually bypassing”. On the contrary… he was bearing witness to the incarnate nature of the frenzied person, and the incarnate oneness between the two of them, without invading, or abandoning him (or for that matter, being invaded or abandoned, himself).
At the time, all I could see was the contrast. In all my readings and heart comprehensions about the “unitive way”, I had never been so close to what unitive consciousness looks like, lived out, until seeing this sort of violently scattered person, not being able to sway the presence of infinite love being channeled through this unassuming man with a cane.
And we all completed the task at hand, and I was changed forever by bearing witness to the subtleties between the lines.
James and I worked a lot together for about three years. Of course, we found out that neither of us are perfect. I gave him quite a bit of technological support, and at times he would laugh and say of computer related issues, “It’s enough to make the Pope swear.” Humour… yet another misplaced art form in our discourse today.
I relay these stories to you, because if there was ever a time to understand what “move slowly” means in a fast paced, complicated world, it is our present moment. How do we act in such a way where we are not emotionally swept up by the intensity of political tantrums, and reactivity, that could have dire consequences? For goodness sake, I am still learning how to do this as a parent. Intensity is... intense! But see, the catch with parenting is the same catch as elsewhere, how I react, is how they behave. Or as Krista Tippet so beautifully put it in her course The Art of Conversation, "the nature of the question illicits the nature of the answer".
Move Slowly is a song relating to the personal healing journey… but I am pulling out a lesson within it, that as we move slowly in the personal healing arena, we can treat it as a practice, to move slowly when we are faced with the intensity of the world. And to move slowly when faced with the intensity of the world is not the same as spiritual bypassing. It is about drawing nearer to the incarnate nature of the suffering at hand, and not being drawn in by the strong mob-like frenzy at the surface of things.
That we have no common ritual grief practices, and no initiation into adulthood (service of the community), we should really expect no more from leftover chauvinism, than what we’re seeing in the political sphere today. All it knows how to do is fight to win, even to the point of not understanding that win/lose at this point, is lose/lose. There is a term floating around today, that claims that even the 100 billionaires will soon realize that their win and everyone else’s lose, is really also a lose for them. And there is the potential for what folks are calling “omni-win/win”. But this will not come about through the frenzied energy of condescension. It will be more like the process of titration.
I will say here, I think it is especially hard to move slowly with the task of healing, when there is the additional daily pressure of being constantly held suspect, or racially profiled. Trying to find safe spaces just to be imperfect, are hard enough to find, without having the insidious nature of racial profiling being added onto the perception of who we are. That being said, some of my greatest teachers in this art form of moving slowly amidst the fray, have been especially, indigenous elders.
Move Slowly is about learning to be safe and vulnerable at the same time. That’s the personal part. But how that looks in the collective part is, it that Move Slowly is also an energy thing. It is about having daily practices that build our “count to ten” muscles, that keep us from spending all of our energy, on half-baked reactions.
I’ve sometimes been asked why I don’t speak out about this event, or that event, and why I do about others. Firstly, sometimes when I do speak out, I regret how I do it later, because I did it in a way that unleashed my reactivity… and wow… does that ever bring on the reactivity in others and it feels like such a waste of precious energy! Secondly, I spend a significant amount of time reflecting on where to place energy, because energy is powerful, so I can always tell if I spoke out in a way that was immersed in wisdom.
In Richard Rohr’s now classic book The Naked Now, he says, “this ability to stand back and calmly observe my inner dramas, without rushing to judgement, is foundational for spiritual seeing.” And he also says, “the most amazing fact about Jesus, unlike almost any other religious founder, is that he found God in disorder and imperfection - and told us that we must do the same or we would never be content on this earth.”
When I listen to the song Move Slowly, and apply the Big Picture to it, that is what I hear. What I see, is James Finley being present with the disorder and imperfection of a hyper-stressed out young man, and bearing witness to what was incarnate in him, just as he was.
It was the presence of real grace.
But we all have to start somewhere.
So… slowly… safely… and onward.
"I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell."
- Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets
"The unwillingness to grieve makes people search for someone upon which to project blame for the feeling of loss they bear."
- Martín Prechtel, The Smell of Rain on Dust
“The war in Vietnam is America working out its own neurosis.”
- Thomas Merton, audio talk to the Gethsemani novices, on Sufism
I think it is safe to say that the shadow side of globalization has struck first. And maybe that is always the way of it. That change comes when we are thrown into crisis. Coalescing will come when we realize we don’t want 40 of the richest to be coalescing alone.
There are between twenty-seven to forty-six million slaves in the world today. And that doesn’t include people drowning in the impossible game of interest-bearing debt, who buckle under that system, and go out and buy things for themselves, and their kids, made by those slaves.
I speak of this, because I believe the reason slavery still exists, and the climate crisis exists, is because we have been collectively defering the grief that is ours to grieve, onto the next generations, for many generations. But I also believe there is a direct lateral impact from unhealed wounds, and ungrieved loss, and that lateral impact enslaves today.
I have met beautiful, well-meaning men who immediately put a mock look of strength on their face when they speak of a soldier’s duty, no matter how he or she might be trained to kill whatever is in front of them. A child. A grandparent. All’s fair. This entrainment of setting a courageous jaw, came from years of wondering if they might be one of the drafted. And some of them were the drafted.
The personal and collective woundedness and grief we all carry is the elephant in almost every room, whether the room is full of corporate CEOs, or anarchists, or grandmothers quilting blankets in church basements.
Many people alive today posture themselves to hold back any grief tide, because the way we are marked with strength, is through our ability to get through our spouse’s funeral without crying. But really, getting through the funeral is also about not allowing the flood gates of all the deferred grief to be opened.
The same goes for the grief that might come if you are of white settler descent, and really understood the oppression your ancestors experienced… and then caused on others… in the story of leaving the "settled" old world, and “settling” the “new” world. To comprehend in your heart, the gravity of the situation, would open generational wounds. Because to weep about one thing, is to weep about another. Many of us would rather get defensive and say things like "we've all had things to deal with", or "I lost a lot as a kid too and you don't hear me complaining." Well, maybe finding someone to "complain" to, might do some good.
The healing path is a personal path, but it is also a collective one. We owe it to future generations to do the work, because this is a holistic problem. Our own personal healing, if it really is healing, always moves into the Larger Picture, and becomes about cultivating and giving the gifts that were being held back by the flood gates keeping the grief in.
I believe their are many healing paths. Indigenous practices around the world show that healing can be an embodied, musical, rhythmic experience. My husband was a part of a grieving circle that helped him grieve immense loss. I too have sought ways to heal in nature, as well as with therapy, including support groups.
The album Sanctuary is an album that explores the healing path from both a depth psychology perspective, and a spiritual perspective. It is a distillation of James Finley’s thesis on spirituality playing a role (for those who wish it to) in depth psychology, as a healing process. The album takes gentle steps, in a sequential way, and has been a worthy companion for many. It by no means should take the place of a therapist, or a circle, or other healing modalities you might put your trust in. We have always said, it really is simply a musical companion that some will find helpful.
I made Sanctuary because of my own healing pilgrimage, that I’m still on. I also made it because I wanted to capture James Finley’s work on healing in a musical medium. He is one of our great contemplative teachers, and is one of the great Wounded Healers alive today.
I also made Sanctuary because of the bigger picture I have presented to you here. Doing grief work, and doing healing work, is ecologically responsible. If it is true healing, it will also flow into healing the problem of racism. Having attended Truth and Reconciliation Commissions here in Canada, I know how powerful grief work and healing can be, when it comes to finding one's self very close to the fissures caused by domination of other people. It is profoundly tender work, and I don’t think I would have been ready to really listen to the stories I heard from indigenous people, if I hadn’t done some healing work in myself already. In other words, I think healing is also important so that there are enough listeners to hear and bear the sorrows caused by our nations.
Hippocrates said that “all healing begins in the gut”. And he meant that we need to eat in a way that we have healthy digestion. I would add, that we need to grieve in a way that, over time, we are able to have a healthy flow of holy tears.
Maybe world peace would be possible if we weren’t so spiritually, emotionally, economically, and physically, constipated. (I really mean that.)
Many people think that healing isn’t for them because they have a roof over their head, or they misinterpret what emotional sobriety is. But healing is for everybody.
I was once told by a healer, that the inflammation I suffer from in my neck, is carried 17 generations back through particular family members on one side of my family. I hadn't told her, but the very members she mentioned both have neck problems. I am learning more and more, that shame is a shallow game. To make peace with my ancestors is the deep game.
It might seem insurmountable, the healing that needs to be done. But as James Finley says, “little, by little, by little, breath, by breath, by breath”.
This is an imperfect patchwork quilt that we are all a part of. Our imperfection is our beauty. And what I mean by that is, perfection stands in the way of healing. Wholeness is not perfection. We can be a hot mess, and still be utterly whole in our brokenness.
But we can never attempt to be perfect and grieve at the same time, because perfection is a sort of violence we do to ourselves, when we don't know what else to do.
So... gentle now... this first song is simply about wondering where to start. Be respectful of yours and other's tender edges. And if you never have, perhaps there is a therapist, an al-anon group, an AA group, a healing circle, waiting to hear your story. Which is, a part of the great Story. Which needs healing.
I won't write much for this very last Sunday of the first decade of the 21st Century.
I will just say this:
Thank-you, to all who have read Sunday Song and Rumination, and listened to the weekly song. I've been doing this since September 2018, and I feel much closer to you, because of it.
We've been mostly hanging out between the earthy, the toothy, and the seedy, and the Christ we find therein. Sometimes, we've been reaching out to the lofty, cosmic, starry night, that renders us so deeply insignificant, that we feel honoured to be here. (Interesting that "render" is a part of "surrender".)
But to begin the New Year, I am going to delve into something a little different. I had a conversation when on Iona, about healing and grief work. I don't think we're going to lead our children in the pathway of real righteousness without it. In other words, as I consistently quote Thomas Merton speaking to his novices: "the war in Vietnam is America working out its own neurosis." In other words, no matter where we are from, if we're farming out our grief, avoiding our ancestors, avoiding the part we've played, we're not really doing the work we were put here to do. A part of our agency is our healing, and the development of our wisdom, so we know how to die, and live.
So, for the beginning of the New Year, we will be doing a fresh walk through the album Sanctuary- Exploring the Healing Path with James Finley.
Many have written to me, saying this album has journeyed with them, through the valley of the shadow of death. I thought it might be a good thing, to revisit it. And to introduce it to new ears. This album in particular is one I would pray could be heard by every ear who needs/yearns to hear it. It is the distillation of James Finley's life's work as a depth psychologist, who has the eyes of a contemplative Christian master.
I delight in the thought of serving you, and being with you, in the New Year.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky.
You are beloved. You are the wild. You are in Christ. Christ is in you.
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I’ve only come near the edge of believing that there is no God a few times. I’ve sometimes asked in prayer, “are you heartlessly indifferent?”. “Are you just not involved?” “An “absentee landlord”, as Al Pacino said in the film Devil’s Advocate?” Many of the people I know, who adhere to a sort of scientific materialism, that there is no inspirited nature to the universe, are doing this because they have big hearts, and a deeply implanted sense of justice, and can see that if there is a God, why is pain a part of the deal?
This past week has been a hard one for me. I’ve struggled with cynicism. And have been weighed down with my own problems, but also have been feeling the weight that so many carry at this time of year. Some long for idyllic family times, and have no one to sit down at a meal with. Others who have family, also long for idyllic family times, but in reality, sometimes the siblings have stopped talking to each other, or there is some expectation that just isn’t met in the way the day transpires. It can feel a bit depressing sometimes… that our only options are to either be disappointed, or to protect our feeling of disappointment with cynicism. And we fail to recognize, that there is power in being still present, as we invoke holy observation, of ourselves, and of others.
Also, whenever cynicism is near, I know it is because I’m trying to protect myself, and I’m running from some form of grief. That I’m fearing the release of Holy tears.
The truth is, there are times when all of us, to whatever degree, think that God is indifferent. Watching us with some feigned involvement “from a distance”. And partly, the reason for that is, because any kind of unknowing is disquieting, even when, if we really think about it, all the most beautiful things in life, require not knowing. So… what if God IS indifferent, but in a Holy way? We Christians proclaim the incarnation, but we rarely ever take it to its fullest meaning. Because its fullest meaning scares us. That God as Love would bubble over as matter, as all things, and unmoor into the vulnerability of being, is such a tender thought, that our fear of real intimacy pushes it away.
So, here we are… it’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we’re approaching the birth of Jesus now. Within the context of sacred scripture, and our own life, how do we choose to frame Christmas?
What if we were to say, that God, through Mary’s consent, chose to outpour a new evolutionary level of consciousness - a sign, that we, and the whole earth, the whole universe, really are the garments of Christ. That is, we are deeply involved in an evolving story of love.
The trouble with saying that is that this kind framework, or revelation, has to come through our poverty. And what I mean by poverty, is: living fully, with sober suffering and joy. Cynicism keeps me treading water at least. It keeps me from living a false joy. And it keeps me from utter despair. I hover in that mode, in the hopes that I’ll find room at the Inn, so I can stay even just a little bit “comfortably numb”. It keeps me protected from intimacy with my friends, and my beloveds, because all intimacy is a mirror for the Intimacy at the heart of the whole universe.
Releasing that cynicism in a form of tender grief, and tender laughter, always leads me to the stable, where Christ can be born. See the tricky part is, that God resides in that place in us where the grief is. Which is exactly where the joy is. And whenever we’re running from the slow, precious tenderness of grief, or likewise don’t allow joy to flow, is usually when we get hung up on trying to find room at the Inn, where we all think God is supposed to be. It’s easier to believe God is born at the Inn, because the Inn is superficial. We tell ourselves, “maybe there isn’t a room there, but maybe they’ll just let me sit at the bar, if I can look as though I played by all the rules and did everything in the correct sequence”.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about the incarnation, it is always through very joy-filled moments of poverty. Meaning, it is when I realize I’ve got nothing left to give, and can still sense my belovedness, when I become quieted enough to realize that I am either a part of the flow of love, or I am a rigid clog in the arteries of love. And either way, my pessimism has no power over the final outcome of the Coalescence at work. Still, is that really the way to live my life?
I have this little song that says
“we are Bethlehem
we are Mary’s “yes”
The angel choir sang of this kiss
That God is woven in with this”
But to realize this, it is almost always in those moments, or even long years, when we are bewildered by, or are suspicious of, the Silence of God.
The bewilderment hopefully causes some break in the armour, so we might allow ourselves to glimpse at… ourselves… because all along, God has been in there, closer than we are to ourselves.
And likewise, sometimes it feels like God isn’t with us, because there is no room at the inn. Like we’ve been forsaken and turned away because we don’t fit into the business as usual. We missed the memo, and are doomed to peer in through the window, watching all the folks who did it right, getting their golf clubs ready for the caddy to cart off to the pitch.
But the truth is, we are all finite. We are all vulnerable. And that is what makes us touchable. Huggable. It is how we are able to share the sign of peace with each other. It is where love is enfleshed, and live out.
We struggle with the notion that the Divine, the Source, this all encompassing Love Supreme, who some of us call God, is unmoored, outpoured into reality. IS reality. And that somehow the Christ child was born here, into the revealing truth, of who each of us are in our poverty.
The Silence of God is our center, and our circumference. It is the Holiest indifference. The absence we think we feel, is really more like being eclipsed, because of how overlapped, intertwined, interwoven God is with all of this.
Sometimes I am awestruck at my own devotion to this idea of Inclusive-Incarnation-as-Reality. Sometimes I am afraid it is true, simply because it might not be true. And often in those times, I run in fear, away from possible joy, and from the hurting it causes in my heart. And in those times, again, I try to find room at the Inn, where at least there, I think, I will be cushioned from being vulnerable, and from unknowing, and from having to wonder. There at the Inn, at least they won’t ask me to unmoor, like the God I intuit, is always unmooring.
But look at what is happening somewhere over yonder. Get up, put your coat on, go outside, breathe in the scent of animals, kneel in the straw. There’s Silence, and then birthing moans, and then Silence, in your ears. And God plunges into life, as vulnerable and precious, as any baby ever born. And the echo of Mary’s song is there. And she and Joseph sing the stories of their people. And someone already wants him dead, because it is too good to be true.
Teresa of Avila said, “the feeling remains, God is on the journey too.”
Thomas Merton said, “for the world and time, are the dance of the Lord, in emptiness” - and he said, further along in his passage, “yet the fact remains, we are invited to throw our awful solemnities to the wind, and join in the general dance.”
Jesus said, “I and the Father are One”.
Jesus also said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
And what that means is that Christ has been born in your stable, too. And mine. It IS too good to be true, and yet it is true. Which is why it hurts to be human. But in those moments when we resist the flame within the flame in our own hearts, are the moments when it burns. And I confess, I’ve been feeling pretty burnt lately. I’ve been running from the freedom of my own poverty, that allows me to join in the general dance.
Over the next few days, as we each do Christmas how we do Christmas, join me in taking the time, to sit, or kneel in the stable. And I mean, imagine going there in your heart. It is there that Christ will be born, as a sign, that neither cynicism and nihilism, or their opposites, ignorance and bigotry, have the final say in who we are.
Our hope beyond all hope did come
To call us each and every one
To the surface of our consciousness
God dwells within, and always has
As I write this, it is December 14th, which is the feast of St John of the Cross.
It is fitting that this is so. I am struggling today. I'm sure you have those days, too.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that God made a world for us to share in, and give back to. In many ways, our farm feels like that. But even our homestead and family has struggled this week. I'll put it this way - installing a thermo-syphon system into your wood cook stove while attempting usual life with small children, has been a great lesson in energy, and entropy!
Anyway, I’m lamenting a bit today. In this hemisphere, we are entering into the short days. I love the darkness. I love the stars. The moon. (I howled at the full moon this week, at midnight, no less). But the cost of hoping for racial equity, of hoping for the commons to be raised from the dead, can be so great. Some weeks are like that. I know in some ways it is my ego holding on too much. And in other ways… it is simply my heart breaking for the many who suffer needlessly throughout the world.
So, in case you’re struggling too… as Rilke said, “just keep going, no feeling is final”.
I could use that encouragement myself.
I wrote this little lament today… as a balm… as a child’s cry… as a confession… that I’m feeling sad, and anything but unwavering, in my faith. One thing I do intuit... is that this lost feeling is deeply incarnated. It is a part of the process of allowing the great Navigator to gently take over the helm just a little bit more... and a little bit more. So that the subtle perceptions that engender real nonviolence can find stability, (in the midst of the malaise). And, it is important to go easy on myself, because the malaise is a symptom of my inner struggle with the moral neutrality of disturbances that create change, (or bring us to rock bottom).
With gentle, tender, difficulty, here are the vulnerable lyrics of where I'm at this week. Maybe you're there, too. It is so interesting how some of us encounter sadness as we hope.
Today I want all the answers
I don’t want the mystery
I just wanna know
Is this going somewhere good?
Is this going somewhere good?
You can say it all happens for a reason
But tell that to the child
who's crying in the cage
“This is going somewhere good, child”
“This is going somewhere good.”
The best things in life are free
So we replace them
How could that be something good?
How could that be something good?
These are very good
All these things are very good
I know if I had all the answers
I would kill the mystery
And I would think I know it all…
But is this going somewhere good?
Is this going somewhere good?
Can we take it somewhere good?
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.